On the second and final day of Digital Winners Asia in Yangon, the start-ups in attendance, all eager to grow and expand, sponged up the guidance given by the tried and test experts. Here’s a glimpse into the key messages of the day.
Inside the mind of a venture capitalist
First up was venture capitalist Jeffrey Paine, who has been investing in Southeast Asia for the last five years. He runs Golden Gate Ventures and imparted his views on how to attract an investor. He takes a very practical and realistic view on start-ups, advising them to understand their limitations and strengths. “Don’t project,” he says. “Be as close to reality as you can when meeting with potential investors.” He added that there will be some issues that you face, including little to no money especially during later stages, having weak or green mentors and investors, plus the potential limitations of the market you are in, in terms of timing and size of demand.
To meet these challenges, he had some advice. He stressed the importance of community cohesiveness, and not just the start-up community alone but that community combined with government, corporates and other players. He also said to “ensure that you have trusted local seed investors and you involve foreign investors early on.” In addition, Jeffrey said to adjust expectations with investors. “You’re going to hit a ceiling, know your limits, where you come from and where you are going.” And finally, he said to “give it time”. Being a founder is really difficult and there are no short-cuts.
The importance of successful neighbors
For a country like Myanmar, which only recently started enjoying the fruits of connectivity, these are still very early days for the start-up scene. Dave Madden is playing a role in helping that community grow, through his role running Phandeeyar, a local Yangon hub for start-ups. He stressed the importance of seeing and hearing about successes in the region, in markets where there similarities. “We are trying to share the opportunities in the Myanmar market, and the region is super important. We need to be able to point to other successful start-ups in the region. It’s easier to be inspired by markets with similarities – Silicon Valley is a world away,” said Dave.
What’s a telco got to do with it?
It’s not financial, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s about bringing the corporate assets, according to Telenor’s Head of New Ventures, Johanna Staaf.
“As a telco we can help a start-up with your first test customers. Start-ups can also leverage our marketing capabilities and our particular expertise on technical things for service optimization, for example,” she said.
The general consensus of a day of expert opinions was that the start-up road is a rocky one, and that as a growing company you shouldn’t be afraid to seek out help, especially when the weight on the start-ups’ shoulders becomes more and more intense. Jeffrey Paine had a few final words to the eager audience of Southeast Asian start-ups, “You need to focus and over communicate. You need to be flexible and absorb like a sponge and process. Change direction if necessary. And you need your own circle of advisors who are strong pillars of support.”
Out to build a better tomorrow
People have stopped asking how Southeast Asia can be more like Silicon Valley. Instead the focus today is on building a start-up culture that is unique to the region. Southeast Asia is full of promise, brimming with people who have an optimistic view of the future and burning desire to improve the problems of daily life. There’s ambition, energy and a drive to create change for the better. That spirit is alive and well among the start-up companies attending Telenor’s Digital Winners Asia. And we can’t wait to see what they do next.